International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

China officially declares that it will fight UN efforts to refer North Korea Case to ICC

The Chinese Government announced Monday that it would oppose any UN effort to bring the case against North Korea in front of the ICC. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was quoted as saying that China opposed the potential referral because “issues concerning human rights should be solved through constructive dialogue on an equal footing”. It was widely expected that China, as a strong ally of North Korea and a member of the security council, would stand against any UN action regarding North Korea.


China’s support of North Korea in this regard is yet another example of the complicated role that politics plays in the realm of international justice. China is North Korea’s key ally, and provides much of the and and trade that is currently propping up a country already experiencing widespread famine. According to a Channel NewsAsia report, China’s support of North Korea is in part due to fears that if the North Korean state collapses, the chaos could spill southward across their own border, and that instability in the Asian continent could allow for the US to bolster its presence.


An ICC investigation and potential conviction of North Korean Officials is sure to generate the instability that China fears. Jared Genser, an international human rights lawyer and North Korea expert, was quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying that “There is no doubt that legally such a referral would be highly justified and appropriate. But it is also bound to infuriate China.” 


The potential of China’s opposition to prevent the referral from reaching the ICC is the latest proof of one of the biggest flaws in the setup of the ICC–its politicisim.  The influence of powerful states–particularly Security Council members and economic powerhouses like China–can still be used to shield injustices from legal accountability.


3 responses to “China officially declares that it will fight UN efforts to refer North Korea Case to ICC

  1. agautam1 February 18, 2014 at 1:51 am

    A followup to this is that of late China’s relationship with North Korea has been less positive than in previous years. This is especially notable after incidences like the bombardment of Yeonpyeong, and general concerns over DPRK’s nuclear programme.

    China could find itself in an increasingly awkward place on this matter as the same UN investigators behind the report told China it might be ‘aiding and abetting crimes against humanity’, which is itself something that can be indicted in the ICC, as Charles Taylor well knows. To level such an accusation against China, coupled with the vivid descriptions of the crimes themselves and the parallel to the Nazi era is important for two reasons.

    The first is that it opens up the idea that there could be enough evidence to indict China, even if for various political reasons it would never happen. But this is one of the few times such an open accusation has been leveled at P5 nations, and if nothing else it may work to errode the view that they are totally immune from that type of criticism.

    The second, in terms of the parallel to the Nazi era is to galvanize support for a swift reaction, since the regime DPRK has been compared to is the one from which Nuremberg, and thus the ICC itself, was born. In other words, if such a regime is on a par with the one that gave birth to international justice, surely no reaction from the now-established system makes a mockery of the existing system itself. How can what was born out of Nuremberg not react to something deemed similar to what created Nuremberg in the first place?

    The credibility of the ICC depends on being able to pursue such crimes against humanity, and such a report puts the ICC in a difficult position. A reaction is certainly necessary though because of the political reasons mentioned it seems unlikely the ICC will actually be able to do anything about it-at least not by taking DPRK to trial, though it may be able to pressure its allies (China) through sustained evidence and criticism.

    • tmago2014 February 19, 2014 at 1:35 am

      In the Human Rights Watch report, a few larger themes were highlighted: Food Shortages and Famine, Torture and Inhumane Treatment, Executions, Political Prisoner Camps, Refugees and Asylum Seekers, Government-Controlled Judiciary, Labor Rights and Freedom of Association, Information, and Movement.

      China’s declaration lending its support to North Korea has one very important implication – this case will likely never make it to the ICC as it would not surpass China veto power. The likelihood of Chinese policy towards DPRK changing is low seeing as keeping the DPRK as an ally is strategically important. Not only would the regime collapsing cause a massive refugee influx into China, but the 800 mile border that the nations share would become destabilized.

      However, it is also important to remember that the North Korean nuclear threat is less problematic than it was a few years ago. Due to evidence of nuclear tests coming out of Pyongyang this year, the Chinese-DPRK relationship has been strained. A Council on Foreign Relations article stated, “While Beijing continues to have more leverage over Pyongyang than any other nation, experts say the tests could worsen relations, and many have urged China’s new leadership to consider taking a tougher stance with its neighbor.”

      With that, it is interesting to consider the possibility of Chinese pressure on the DPRK to ‘clean up their act’. If applied, it could be very effective and could alleviate many of the human rights concerns brought up in the HRW report. This highlights an interesting element of international justice – relationships between administrations and the pressure that can be exerted outside of the court room. On the other hand, if Chinese and North Korean relations remain strained and eventually deteriorate – it seems that a North Korean regime collapse is inevitable.

      The symbolism of placing the DPRK in this position though is very important as now the claims that many have made for decades have been substantiated and thus, productive action will hopefully follow.


  2. gracen0te5 March 3, 2014 at 1:24 am

    I think it is good to keep in mind the sharp ideological divide when it comes to North Korea issues. I think that most of the U.S.’s responses to human rights violations are influenced by their involvement in human rights violations in Africa, Europe, and Middle East. I’m not sure how this affects their policies toward East Asian human rights violations. China’s support of North Korea as an ally complicates and seems to deter active U.S. intervention. I have seen many ways, however, that people have been participating in the North Korea issue aside from the U.N.

    The #BringBaeBack Twitter campaign has been a strong force beyond social media.
    More details on Kenneth Bae:

    Kenneth Bae has been imprisoned longer than any U.S. citizen abroad since the Korean War. The Twitter campaign #BringBaeBack has been on the quest to bring Kenneth Bae back to the U.S. This has garnered attention from President Obama as he renewed a call for Bae’s release at the annual national prayer breakfast, saying
    “let us never forget those who are persecuted today, among them Americans of faith”.
    Secretary of State John Kerry also got involved by meeting Bae’s relatives at the State Department. Beyond these measures, what sorts of intervention can the U.S. take part in to sustain diplomacy with China?

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